Gullixson: Do we really want Santa Rosa to become the mecca for marijuana?
“Santa Rosa wants this industry here. I think this is probably going to be the New Age Amsterdam.”
- Larry Schaeffer, owner of Cherry Kola Farms near Penngrove, a medical cannabis collective
Really? Says who?
I don't mean to be rude. But who in the world made the decision that Santa Rosa wanted to become the new Amsterdam?
Even Amsterdam doesn't even want to be Amsterdam - or at least the Amsterdam perceived by hordes of party-minded tourists. Contrary to popular belief, the Dutch never legalized marijuana. They've just basically tolerated it for years and only for possession of small amounts (5 grams or less) sold in official “cannabis cafes.” But the government in recent years has been tightening the rules for these cafes, forcing many to shut down. And forget about growing it. It's illegal. You won't go to prison but try to grow as few as five plants and you could end up facing heavy fines and eviction.
Here in Sonoma County, however, we appear to be going in the opposite direction, quickly. It's not hard to find the evidence.
Headline from Aug. 2: “Santa Rosa opens swath of city to marijuana businesses”
Aug. 14: “SR aims to be epicenter of legal pot industry”
Aug. 18: “County sees pot's economic benefits; Local officials urged to ‘climb aboard weed train' ”
So who exactly is driving this weed train?
Granted, much of these stories concern efforts by Santa Rosa and the county to adapt to new state laws that regulate the production and sale of medicinal marijuana. Proposition 215 is a mess, and such a regulatory framework - passed by the state Legislature in October - has long been needed. Under the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act state and local governments have until 2018 to set up a new regulations and licensing schemes.
But what's coming is not a process to make it easier for grandma to get help for her glaucoma. Let's be honest about that. This is especially true if voters on Nov. 8 approve Proposition 64, which would legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana and basically toss these new rules for medicinal marijuana into the wind.
All the same, it's one thing to get ready for changes in state law. It's another to be rolling out the red carpet in hopes of becoming the capital of cannabis.
Do we really want that?
I've heard from more than a few parents who tell me they've been keeping some parts of The Press Democrat off the breakfast table out of concern for the messages these stories are sending. I can sympathize. Pot is already a major problem in our schools. (Yes, so is alcohol. But why be so eager to fan the flames of social problems consuming our kids? Are our test scores not low enough?)
Let's be honest. We all know too many friends, family members and acquaintances whose lives have been put on hold because of prolonged and regular use of pot, habits that most often started in high school.
A recent study by UC Davis researchers confirms that the regular use of pot is more of an anchor than a flotation device in life. The researchers followed nearly 1,000 people from birth up to age 38. They found that those who smoked cannabis on a regular basis - meaning at least four times a week - “ended up in a lower social class than their parents, with lower-paying, less skilled and less prestigious jobs than those who were not regular cannabis smokers.” Moreover, persistent users also suffered “more financial, work-related and relationship difficulties, which worsened as the number of years of regular cannabis use progressed.”
The researchers also found that although both heavy alcohol and cannabis use were linked to declines in social class, problems in the workplace and relationship difficulties, those dependent on cannabis experienced more financial difficulties.
“Cannabis may be safer than alcohol for your health, but not for your finances,” said Terrie Moffitt, a psychologist with appointments at Duke University and the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London.
So somebody tell me why are we so eager to become a magnet for the marijuana industry?
We know why many city and county leaders are on board this train. If these cannabis companies can be lured out into the open where they can be taxed, it could represent a windfall. It's the new reefer madness - the allure of new green pastures of revenue. But are we really looking at this from a sober perspective?
“I frequently hear people talk about all of the revenue generated from the legalization of marijuana,” John A. Jackson of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police wrote to California public officials in June. “I implore you not to become so intoxicated by the projected revenue amounts and the promises made by the marijuana industry that you lose sight of the inherent community and social costs. We have found it to be incredibly expensive to create from scratch a regulatory system that can adequately address public health and safety and meet the needs of the industry.”